Friday, October 17, 2008

BBQ: Large and Small

The Pork-a-Thon continues with a full-service, sit-down restaurant and an order-at-the-counter-and-seat-yourself “joint.” We went to Corky’s (the "sit-down") prepared to not be impressed. Corky’s now franchises, and we saw a number of the restaurants in the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area. Now we have a bias against chains, but Corky’s has been voted the best barbeque restaurant in Memphis for seventeen years. So, we decided, in the interest of pure scientific research, that we had to include them in our barbecue survey. And are we glad we did!!

(The batteries in Chuck’s camera decided to die, and consequently no Corky photos will accompany this section. So, for the next few seconds you are welcome to review these three "substitute" photos taken from the roof of the Peabody Hotel.)

Blowing caution to the winds, we each began our meal with a mug of Corky’s house amber beer. It went down so easy with “Little Darling” by the Diamonds and “The Great Pretender” by The Platters playing in the background. A second glass was in order.

It should come as no surprise that Chuck ordered the pulled pork with beans and slaw, and I opted for a small rack of dry rub ribs with beans and slaw. Chuck rated his pork as the best yet, and I admit that it was moist, tender and flavorful. The house barbecue sauce was so good that I squirted it on my rolls instead of using the awful imitation butter spread. The beans were sweet and similar to the beans that we have had in most Memphis restaurants. The slaw was the best yet. Shredded and not chopped, it was crisp and creamy and worked perfectly with both of our pork orders. (I think a food scientist needs to investigate the relationship between slaw and barbecue and why the slaw compliments the smoked meat so perfectly.)

I have decided that I definitely am a dry ribs woman. This was the “regular” size order--eight meaty ribs devoid of any fat and dusted after smoking with a rub that tasted reminiscent of “Joe’s Stuff,” a Cajun seasoning, but without the intense heat from red pepper. They disappeared from my plate in record time. I regretted giving one to Chuck so that he could taste. That’s the only child in me—we don’t like to share.

Central BBQ is a relative newcomer to the Memphis barbeque scene and pulled pork shoulder reigns supreme. Our meals were identical—the pulled pork platter with beans and slaw. With these, we got an order of seasoned fries. We are learning that Chuck and I have different standards in pulled pork. For me, it is all about the bark and the more the better. I love the taste of the not quite burned outer skin that results from the smoking process, and Central’s order was full of “barky” pieces. Also, their pork was coarsely shredded, leaving large pieces of tender, succulent, and smoky meat. When these have the outer bark shell, we are talking barbecue heaven. So I kept exchanging bits of meat with Chuck—taking his bark and giving him pieces free of bark—and we both ate happily. Both the beans and slaw were good, and the fries appeared to have been dusted with the house rub.

As we were leaving, Chuck asked if he could take a picture of the staff. They had engaged in lively back-and-forth comments with many customers, and as Chuck was lining up the photo, the group struck this pose. From behind me, J.C., the person in charge, said, "These guys have friends around the world." I believed him.

Conversation continued with J.C., quickly turning to baseball. "You must be happy about your Phillies," he said.

"Well, yes, but I'm still a Cub fan after growing up around Chicago," was Chuck's response.

"I'm a Cub fan, too," was J.C.'s unexpected response.

The two compared levels of expectation and disappointment each of them experienced before ending the conversation with the familiar refrain of Cubs' fans: "Wait till next year." It was rather sad to listen to their exchange.

We left clutching two bags of their homemade thick cut potato chips that are again dusted with the dry seasoning—and a bag of barbecue pork rinds.

Later that evening, we realized that we should have purchased several more bags of those chips.

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